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  1. Originally from Literatrix, My great-grandmother, the last of my great-grandparents, died Friday. She outlived her daughter, my grandmother, by just over a month. Well, physically at least; my mother told me that her mind had gone. It is doubtful she ever understood that her daughter had passed. I can't be at the funeral to express my respects, so I thought I would blog them instead. I didn't know her very well; she was old when I was adopted into her family and already somewhat shut up in her own mind. Shortly afterward my immediate family moved to Germany, so my father's relatives became simply some mysterious strangers that I was obliged to visit on occasion. When we finally moved to Virginia we were within driving distance and we visited her more often. She was beginning her long, slow decline but her formidable character clung to her tenaciously. Into her eighties she continued running her own house and working in her garden. I learned one thing from her that has served me well over the past few years: there's no sense in shrinking from things that happen to be, well, gross. I distinctly remember her pulling earthworms in half with her bare hands on one of our fishing trips. They were too big to go on the hook, and it was too much trouble to dig out a knife and cut them. I don’t think I often admitted to being squeamish after that, although I remain thankful that I haven't been confronted with an earthworm in need of trimming since then. I do work in a tissue bank where I am surrounded by any number of stomach-turning things all day long. In a way, I owe my success at my job to her. Working where I do, it's almost impossible to avoid thinking about death fairly often. I think I've benefited from it; most atheists I know -- ”including Objectivists -- have a difficult time deciding what they think about death. Your own death is a strange enough thing to contemplate. What on earth do you think about the deaths of others? I think it's very important to remember the dead, not because they died, but because they lived. Is there anything to say more solemnly awesome than that simple fact? Is there anything more deserving of ceremony and respect? I think not. The question is, though, why do you wait until someone dies to feel, much less express, such an emotion? The reason is that during their life it would be an intrusion. While you live, your life belongs only to you and everyone must respect that. When you die the memory of it belongs to everyone you touched. I write of my great-grandmother because the silent depth of my reverence for my own life demands that I treat the pieces of hers I now hold with the same respect. It is entirely possible that I am the only one who remembers them. I offer them to you in electronic words so that you might pause and remember what a wondrous life this is.
  2. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, The attempts around the country to eliminate the term "Christmas" are being perpetrated largely in the name of "political correctness"--to avoid offending anyone, particularly Muslims, whose beliefs would exclude them from any Christmas celebrations. In line with this, I remember standing in line at the post office last year and noticed a holiday stamp poster. Listed were: Eid (last week of Ramadan), Hannukah, and ... Happy Holidays. The word "Christmas" was not mentioned! That was extremely offensive to this atheist. More here. Similar here on why secularism is not the same as political correctness.
  3. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, ReBlogged on Objectivism Online After reading this story about an atheist group trading Bibles (and other religious texts) for pornography on campus, I wondered: Why not trade them for something actually valuable, like copies of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged? And how about trading Marxist texts for We the Living and Anthem? I was pretty appalled by the atheist's answers to questions about the origins of morality without God: The interviewer rightly noted that the appeal to law is a circular argument, and I would add that the appeal to empathy is just as circular, since all such moral sentiments are grounded in prior moral judgments. His appeal to "things that are good for society" is just as vacuous. As Ayn Rand said in "The Objectivist Ethics": A great many people cite something like "the good of society" as the guiding principle of ethics -- and almost everyone else accepts it as a legitimate answer. That fact is disturbing on a psycho-epistemological level, for it suggests that most people are content to think of ethics solely by means of floating abstractions. The notion of the "good of society" cannot be concretized -- and thus cannot be genuinely understood -- without obviously appealing to some substantive conception of that good. Whenever anyone appeals to such an empty standard of morality, the very next question ought to be, "But what is good for society? Racial purity? Equality? Prosperity? Suffering through Christ?" Yet that question is so rarely asked. (Note to self: Ask it!)
  4. Originally from Gus Van Horn, ReBlogged on Objectivism Online This was an entry I started Thursday, but abandoned due to writer's block. I've decided to add some new material to it since the subject seems to have been discussed quite a bit since then. Via Matt Drudge comes this story of a young woman who needed to hear the word "No" a few times from her parents. She did not, and so she grew up to become a suicide bomber. In response to that last sentence, the first question that comes to my mind is, "Why?" At Capitalism Magazine, the following rings true. Sure. It's about the "American" Taliban, John Walker Lindh, but the lack of parental guidance certainly sounds familiar. It is this lack of guidance on the part of liberal parents who are unable or afraid to teach standards of conduct to their children that explains why some Western children are drawn to Islam, and, more generally, why France is in so much trouble today. The distinctive trait of Western civilization is that it is a this-worldly culture. We therefore know that life has requirements that can be discovered and met by reason. We do not cower before capricious gods demanding painful, nonsensical sacrifices. We know better than that. And our children would too, if we would, only teach them to think for themselves, starting with the word, "No". (And, when they are old enough, explaining why they should and should not do things in relation to how they can best live their lives.) Unguided youths like Lindh and Degauque eventually crash and burn since they have never been taught that crucial survival skill of thinking for themselves. Unconfident and ruined, they look for guidance, and sometimes find sinister people all too willing to give them orders, to save them from having to face the task of thinking for themselves or having to worry about the earthly consequences of their actions. I quote Wretchard of The Belmont Club again. More broadly speaking than America, or Belgium, or France, the problem is that we are failing to impart Western values to our children. This is why a benighted, impotent culture is able to pluck our youths away from us. Ah! But I misspeak. It is the Islamists who view the young as property, to be detonated or not as some flea-bitten mullah dictates. Our youth do not "belong" to "us" or to anyone else. Our children have precious lives of their own to be enjoyed here on this earth -- if they develop their minds well enough to do so. In Friday's TIA Daily, Robert Tracinski ties these points together far better than I. The lack of effort is appealing, I think, for both moral and psychological reasons. Morally, this is a symptom of an unwillingness to expend the great effort needed to achieve heroism, or even rectitude. Psychologically, many children raised without guidance are unpracticed at best in thinking for themselves, and those without goals haven't the basis to prioritize. Interestingly, Daniel Pipes noted today that those who convert to Islam are at a significantly higher risk of becoming terrorists. Not to exonerate Islam, which is, as Irshad Manji points out, an unreformed religion, but I have a hunch that many of these converts are influenced by nihilism, be they children of leftists like John Walker Lindh or disaffected blacks like John Muhammad, before turning to Islam. Meanwhile, over at the New Republic, there is a long article on why America has less home-grown terrorism than Europe. This article is close to correct about why. The word "diversity" explains why I said "close". America, though multicultralism has made significant inroads in recent years, is a truly pluralistic society. Fortunately, the fact that our immigrant Moslem population is not monolithic seems to serve somewhat as a counterweight for the effects of multiculturalism. The article makes other errors as well, most notably in tending to downplay the role American converts to Islam play in terrorism, and at one point, even seriously propounding the idea that "U.S. society is harmonious with Koranic injunctions without even trying" (!). (Quick, someone let Osama bin Laden in on our little secret!) It also misses the significance of the following passage. I would attribute the "segregationist trends" at least partly to the greater influence of multiculturalist doctrines. I also wonder whether second- and third- generation Moslems are, like so many other immigrant populations, well-enough assimilated to be affected by the more nihilistic elements of American culture in addition to both the worst elements of their native religion and the danger to children uniquely posed by affluence and permissiveness: aimlessness without consequences. I think that we are indeed safer than Europe in the short term, but that our dominant culture and multiculturalism could combine to give us problems later on.
  5. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, ReBlogged on Objectivism Online A few weeks ago, I read The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Kang Chol-Hwan. I do recommend it, as it was a powerful and perceptive personal account by a man sent to the camps for eight years when just nine years old. The boy did nothing wrong: the standard policy was to send three generations of relatives to the camps with the offender for any political crimes. In his case, his well-placed grandfather was the wrongdoer, guilty of too loudly criticizing some in the food distribution system he managed. Although The Aquariums isn't deeply philosophical, the author's recounted experiences and general observations do often integrate well with the Objectivist view of the moral, psychological, economic, and political effects of totalitarianism. For example, in speaking of the total seclusion of his camp (Yodok) from the outside world, he writes: His point about the degrading effects of total isolation, to the point of attacking his identity, is significant for it points to the importance of the integration of knowledge. Without any contact with or connection to the outside world, a prisoner would feel isolated from everything else that he knew about life -- and thus from reality itself. Elsewhere in the book, Kang describes the shocking sight of the dirty, half-starved camp prisoners upon his arrival, then his own gradual physical transformation, and then the shocking appearance of new clean, fat new arrivals to his camp. Just on that basis alone, the camp seemed to exist in a totally different dimension than the world he had known. In fact, the only continuity in this young boy's life was the presence of his family, albeit not his mother or his grandfather. (His mother remained a communist in good standing, while his "criminal" grandfather was sent to a much worse camp.) Shortly after reading The Aquariums, I read Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, a lengthy history of communist North Korea under both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. Although the book contained a wealth of information, it was not a consistently reliable source. The author Bradley Martin -- who spent some time in North Korea as a journalist over the years -- sometimes seemed determined to believe whatever the Korean authorities told him about the happy lives of its citizens, even though he knew that he was being carefully exposed to only certain areas and certain people. Other times, he was very appropriately skeptical about those "official" sources of information. I suspect that he was sympathetic with many of the altruistic and collectivistic ideals of the regime, woefully ignorant of rational economics, and virtually unable to think in principles. (There's a painful example of that in the quote below.) The book did contain countless fascinating interviews with defectors of all kinds. I was astonished to learn that almost all still revere Kim Il-Sung, particularly for his (exaggerated) role in liberating Korea from the Japanese. The fact that he did so in order to enslave the country by totalitarian communist dictatorship isn't so significant, apparently. From what I gathered, that persistent reverence is largely a result of the careful indoctrination of children from a very young age into the cult-worship of the Kims. As Mr. Martin describes it: After indoctrination into the mystical worship of the Kims and the altruism and collectivism of communism via the state educational system, young men are sent to the army for ten years. During those years, outside contact -- even with family -- is forbidden. In a critical 1971 speech, Kim Il-Sung said that North Korean children must be taught to "reject individualism and selfishness, love the organization and the collective, and struggle devotedly for the same of society and the theory and the party and the revolution" (167) The author then writes: That was likely a staged performance, but it nonetheless indicates the thoroughly collectivist ideal of North Korea's educational system. Perhaps more amazingly, the North Koreans are proud of such demonstrations, almost totally unaware that people from more-or-less free countries find them creepy, if not repugnant. Perhaps the single most revealing account of life in North Korea was found in Chapter 22, which concerned the North Koreans who volunteered for logging jobs in the bitter sub-zero cold of Siberia, Russia. Logging in Siberia wasn't exactly a coveted job for the Russians, but North Koreans regarded such work was highly desirable, volunteering for it in droves. Even though the North Korean government took two-thirds of the income, the jobs still earned about fifteen times more than work in North Korea. For many North Koreans, the experience of life in the significantly freer [!] and wealthier [!] Soviet Russia encouraged them to defect. They realized that the whole world didn't worship Great Leader Kim, as they had been taught, when the Russians made fun of their Kim Il-Sung portrait badges and other forms of cult-worship. They marveled at the Russian stores, so well-stocked with food and supplies. The North Korean officials had to forbid its workers from watching Russian television, since that offered some modicum of truth about the abject poverty of North Korea compared to South Korea. The North Koreas also saw that the Russians has cinemas, discos, and other forms of entertainment unheard of in North Korea. Although most logging workers returned to North Korea, many defectors did come through those logging camps. Similarly, many North Korean students studying abroad in other communist countries defected after gaining some basic facts about the actual state of the world. On occasion, I hear people arguing that poor, young Americans growing up in urban ghettos aren't responsible for their choices. "They don't know any better. They've never known any other kind of life" -- or so the argument goes. That's obviously false on its face, given that the alternatives can be seen all around, including in cheap and/or free movies, books, and television. Even just walking a few blocks or talking to the neighborhood grocer can be very instructive. However, the contrasting case of North Korea is helpful for understanding this point, in that it shows just how much isolation is required for a person to be truly, hopelessly, and innocently ignorant of critical facts about alternative ways of living. And even still, many people do manage to see enough to question their years of indoctrination.
  6. Originally from Gus Van Horn, Victor Davis Hanson and a group of nihilistic atheists proposing a Bible-for-porn swap could both rightly be asked the question: "And what is your point?" VDH I have a great deal of respect for Victor Davis Hanson, but I won't for long if he keeps churning out columns like this one, where he methodically picks apart the rationale -- but still voices support -- for John McCain's anti-torture amendment. This is exactly the kind of argument I expected someone from the religious right to come up with. What threw me for a loop here is how brazenly someone would admit the problems inherent in passing such an amendment and yet still support it. I disagree with Victor Davis Hanson that human sacrifice, and specifically of Americans for the sake of the welfare of savages, is one of our nation's ideals. Nor does barbarity (in self-defense) reflect any more negatively upon our nation than taking the lives of our enemies for the same purpose. On what grounds does Hanson condemn the former, but condone the latter? Yes. Here we have an example of someone's moral intrinsicism trumping the lives of his countrymen in a time of war. Appalling. Nihilists Reader Adrian Hester sent me this link, to a story about a group of atheists on a college campus who offered to provide pornographic magazines to students in exchange for their Bibles. If these students really think the Bible is a "negative force in the history of the world", their actions indicate that they want to help it along. Consider the following. (1) They are targeting Christians whom they can expect will not be receptive to their arguments. (2) Oh, wait, but they offer no arguments. (3) They present these Christians, who regard the Bible as a good thing, with pornography, which they (the Christians) regard as bad. These moonbats are offering nothing of value to anyone. They are not merely setting themselves up for failure, they are making sure that their cause will be regarded as dimly as possible. They are, in short, being precisely the kind of enemies that Christians would want. And now, for the $ 64,000 rhetorical question: Why would they want to do a thing like that?
  7. Originally posted by Diana from NoodleFood, I am more than a bit reluctant to post on humor again, given the unpleasant debate in the comments on my last post on the topic. However, I cannot resist. While listening to Pride and Prejudice two nights ago, I came across this delightful comment from Elizabeth Bennett about laughter at virtue. So now we have Plato, Elizabeth Bennett, and Ayn Rand all in agreement! As the awful Miss Bingley says in that very scene "Oh! shocking!"
  8. Originally posted by The General from The Benjo Blog, The case before the Supreme Court this term which I'm most interested in is Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The case is superficially about a parental notification requirement for minors seeking an abortion. More fundamentally, however, the case has the potential to allow states to erode the right to abortion in a frightening way. SCOTUSblog has a good (albeit technical) post up on the case. Here's the relevant excerpt: I also recently saw an interview with law professor Jack Balkin, who captured this issue eloquently in a less "legally jargonistic" way: That interview is from the Frontline documentary The Last Abortion Clinic, which I highly recommend. It highlights the insidious regulations that anti-abortionists have been passing in some states. You can watch in online here (Windows Media Player or Realplayer required).
  9. Originally from Gus Van Horn, Thanks, once again, Sam Harris! Paul Campos pens a God-awful column in today's Rocky Mountain News, in which he gets to slam secularists as sadistic pedophiles thanks to the good offices of my favorite atheist mystic, Sam Harris. I haven't the time or the inclination to rip it completely to shreds, but I'll note some of the highlights. Time for a fisking. Campos, pretends that (1) the fact that human beings can disagree means that knowledge from evidence and logic (as opposed to blind faith) is impossible, and (2) that the mysticism of Sam Harris (which I detail more in the first link) is "the" alternative to said blind faith. Even if Campos had discarded Harris's gratuitous Buddhism and focused his attack on "materialism", he would have had an easy go at smearing secularism. One of the most common misconceptions about a non-mystical view of the universe is, after all, that it necessarily entails the sort of deterministic, "billiard-ball" notion of causality we see in the next paragraph. This is patently absurd when one considers the idea that free will is a different type of causation. Free will manifestly exists. The fact that we cannot explain it yet does not invalidate reason as a means to knowledge, nor does it mean we can just make up whatever else we like while we're ignorant about the point. Campos is correct when he says that "The ultimate nature of reality isn't a scientific question...." This is something I, a secularist and a scientist, have pointed out myself. But in doing so, I have pointed out that many sloppily substitute terms like "science" or "materialism" -- or both, in the case of really sloppy writers like Campos -- for "reason". Indeed, it is the faculty of reason that allows man to grasp the nature of reality through the appropriate discipline, the discipline of philosophy, of which religion is at best a primitive first stab. Later on, I will deal with Campos's assertion that rejecting faith as a means of knowledge (or, as he phrases it, "believing in materialism") is, in and of itself, an "act of faith". Now, so far, it would seem that I am being a tad bit unfair to Campos. Certainly, if this were all he said, that would be the case, because Sam Harris, who claims to be a neuroscientist and is famous for having written The End of Faith , is certainly guilty of scientism. But as you will see, Harris's sins allow Campos, in condemning them, to pose behind the mask of piety while cashing in on Harris's crimes against intellectual honesty. In fact, Campos begins in short order. Harris's comments on the strangeness of various religious doctrines are mostly on the money and come from the implicitly rational first parts of his book. In the later, new-agey sections, Harris makes all kinds of hokey statements, like when he smuggles in altruism while attempting to discuss a "rational" foundation for morality, and ends up spouting off the following nonsense: Things like this makes him, as a "defender" of secularism, easy prey for someone like Campos, who wants to use problems caused by Harris's fundamental irrationality to attack his rational facade. Campos tosses in the argument from intimidation for good measure when he says that, "An intellectually honest materialist must reject all these claims." Were Campos himself intellectually honest, he might go about proving why any one of these claims necessarily contradicts a secular outlook. Or, since he later discards proof as necessary, perhaps he could explain to us why his "belief" that these positions are incompatible with secularism should be accepted above all others. Or, at least, since he seems to think that secularism is not necessarily false, he could explain why he took the time to write this column and get it published. (The level of evasion professional writers can get away with in our current cultural climate positively flabbergasts me! Would electroshock treatments or a lobotomy perhaps further my writing career? But I digress....) I'll take just one of the three points I supposedly can't defend as an example. Harris never defines man as "the rational animal", ties morality to man's life as a standard of value, or explains that political freedom is the foundation for a proper society because it allows man to use reason, his tool for survival, unhindered by others. This is what makes Harris and his ilk unable to explain why, exactly, torturing a child for one's sexual gratification is evil (and criminal), for example. The criminality of this act is easier to explain: It violates the child's rights. The act is immoral on several counts it would take too long to explain fully. Among them: (1) Since torture is not part of life proper to a human being, the torturer damages his own psychological welfare. (2) The torturer invites self-destruction via criminal penalties or acts of defense on behalf of the child. (3) He is injuring someone else outside the context of self-defense. Pedophilic torture isn't just "considered evil", Mr. Campos, it is evil, and I know exactly why. The question is whether Campos really does. Contrast this with what Campos has to say. How would Campos know this? And how does he know that everyone else (or anyone else) knows this? And, except for the deterrent of capture (which even the stupidest criminals seem to grasp), what does any such moral injunction have about it to motivate compliance? Suppose some perv finds a "consenting" child and a way not to get caught? He has no clue about what a proper life is all about and is thus less likely to consider psychotherapy or even such measures as chemical castration to prevent himself from performing this monstrous act. Why? Because he won't understand why this is a monstrous act. He'll just have a list of do's and don't's, and maybe a fairy tale about eternal hellfire he may credit. And on a related note, consider torture in the context of adults. Is torture "just wrong" or might it be moral in some circumstances? How would we know when it is alright to torture someone? I don't "just know". Just yesterday, I noted how people who think things are "just wrong" are mucking up the ongoing national debate over whether America ought to outlaw the torture of captured terrorists. Or consider any other moral issue. Oops! I guess that's why Campos had to choose such an easy moral question -- or at least one that most people would be afraid to open up for debate. If something is "just wrong", you really can't marshal any arguments for why it shouldn't be done. I guess that's why the likes of Campos find reason so unnerving that they have to set straw men like Sam Harris ablaze. "Gosh! If people start stringing too many syllogisms together, they'll toss out morality!" Better to abandon reason than to, say, apply it to morality, these types are basically saying. Interestingly, Campos no only echoes Jonathan David Carson in attacking the straw man of scientism, he also starts sounding a lot like Lee Harris, who argued, based on subjectivism, that it is legitimate to hold a debate about whether Creationism or evolution accurately describes biodiversity! Note the bold. Don Watkins correctly identified the essence of such arguments when he said: Actually, Campos sounds like Lee Harris, but with a twist. Whereas Lee Harris argues that there is not truth, Campos simply holds that reason cannot grasp truth. There is no need for debate, in Campos's mind, because everything is a matter of faith. While Campos pays lip service to the notion of reality, his "faith-based world" is for all practical purposes no different than Lee Harris's socially-constructed world: Either way, you just go with whatever's on your mind regardless of facts and logic. (And this shakes out in morality: "Do your own thing." vs. an arbitrary moral code whose lack of justification can't answer the obvious question, "Why not do your own thing?") So for George Lucas -- I mean Paul Campos -- not only is disagreement among men "just self-evident" as Watkins put it, so is everything else. Pedophilic torture is "just wrong". And men "just have" free will. And Shakespeare is "just better" as a writer than George Lucas. And secularism "just treats as illusory" a whole bunch of territory that Paul Campos "just knows". The fact that he took the time to write a lengthy essay on the point indicates to me that, at least on some level (indicating measures of dishonesty, insecurity, or both), Paul Campos does not "just know" that faith is the only way to answer moral questions. Why else would he argue the point at such great length? (And if, contrary to what I think, he does respect reason, why did he argue so poorly?) Campos then ends, not on the note of riteous indignation that pedophilia/materialism/secularism "deserve", but with the petulant disdain of an adolescent applying peer pressure. Translation: "My faith is better than your faith. Neener neener neener!" How profound. And how relevant. Belief divorced from evidence and proof is hardly a definition -- even minimal -- of sanity. It undercuts one's mind and with it, morality and, if done consistently, it even undercuts sanity. PS: This reminds me of something I said when reviewing the Sam Harris book: I would say that that fear has been realized in the sense that Sam Harris seems to be doing a great job of discrediting reason through the straw man of the scientism-cum-Buddhism he pretends is reason.
  10. Yesterday, Matt Drudge reported the following. A CNN switchboard operator was fired over the holiday -- after the operator claimed the 'X' placed over Vice President's Dick Cheney's face was "free speech!" "We did it just to make a point. Tell them to stop lying, Bush and Cheney," the CNN operator said to a caller. "Bring our soldiers home." The caller initially phoned the network to complain about the all-news channel flashing an "X' over Cheney as he gave an address live from Washington. "Was it not freedom of speech? Yes or No?" the CNN operator explained [sic]. "If you don't like it, don't watch." Laurie Goldberg, Senior Vice President for Public Relations with CNN, said in a release: "A Turner switchboard operator was fired today after we were alerted to a conversation the operator had with a caller in which the operator lost his temper and expressed his... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000488.html
  11. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 28 â€" A senior Iranian cleric boasted on Monday that Iran’s uncompromising stance regarding the international deadlock over its suspected nuclear weapons program forced the European Union to retreat over its threats to refer Tehran’s nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council for possible trade sanctions. From Iran Focus. It looks like the EU should start reading Dr. Hurd: "Not everything is black and white.” If you have definite ideas about something -- about anything, even in everyday life -- you probably hear this all the time. The mullahs in Iran understand the black and white issues and use them to their advantage. Most of Europe and America cowardly reject the black and white approach and are paying for it. Human life is very black and white. And so is an Islamic theocracy developing nuclear weapons.
  12. Via KipEsquire I’ve learned of a demented group of individuals: Smash My XBox 360. This group of “savory” individuals have collected donations from web surfers to conduct a “social experiment”: Due to success of the SmashMyiPod.com site we decided to take the whole smashing thing a little further, and destroy things right when they come out, in front of 100s of fanboys who would be quite upset to see their beloved game console smashed. The rest of his post is a typical subjectivist analysis of value, which I don’t have the time or inclination (or stomach, for that matter) to analyze. Rather, I’d like to identify what is really going on here, which appears to have escaped Kip. He characterizes this hooliganism as “an interest in harmless destruction”, but notes, “the initial response that many would have to such a project would be something akin to either befuddlement (i.e.,... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000490.html
  13. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, One of the traditions the Pilgrims had brought with them from England was a practice known as ``farming in common.'' Everything they produced was put into a common pool; the harvest was rationed among them according to need. They had thought ``that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing,'' Bradford recounts. They were wrong. ``For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte,'' Bradford writes. and... After the Pilgrims had endured near-starvation for three winters, Bradford decided to experiment when it came time to plant in the spring of 1623. He set aside a plot of land for each family, that ``they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to themselves.'' Much more from Caroline Baum here at Bloomberg. She explains how the pilgrims went from fast to feast. From Gary Hull: Thanksgiving celebrates man's ability to produce. The cornucopia filled with exotic flowers and delicious fruits, the savory turkey with aromatic trimmings, the mouth-watering pies, the colorful decorations--it's all a testament to the creation of wealth. More from Gary Hull on "The Producers Holiday" here. Happy Thanksgiving!
  14. Originally from Gus Van Horn, Over at Capitalism Magazine, there is a Thomas Sowell column on torture, which is very good, but which is improved by the addition of a clarifying note on the nature of rights at the end by the editor. To which the editors at Capitalism Magazine remind us: Sowell's points, with this important reservation, are well-taken, but do not go far enough. He is right that threat of torture might make some terrorists talk, but intelligence is not the only possible use for this military tactic. For example, torture, as Bob Tyrrell reminds us, was used to deter terrorism by American soldiers in World War I: I would also add the following thought. It is the same criminal-coddling left that eviscerated the ability of the criminal justice system to keep law-abiding Americans safe -- by keeping criminals off the streets and by deterring would-be criminals via threat of punishment -- who are coming out against torture. And what is torture in the contexts that Sowell and Tyrrell bring up? A means of keeping civilians safe from foreign combatants -- by finding out what the ones who are still out are up to, by deterring would-be terrorists, and by deterring imprisoned terrorists from helping their fellows by witholding information. Interesting -- and potentially ominous -- parallels, I'd say.
  15. Originally from Gus Van Horn, I am not a fan of the notion that states' rights allows our nation to have fifty "laboratories for democracy" -- when that notion is taken to mean that states can decide to violate individual rights, from which states' rights are properly derived. The best that can be said for such a state of affairs is that at least one can move to another state to escape if things get particularly bad in one's own state. Many physicians from Massachusetts already do this to escape the partial slavery to which that state holds them. Sadly, it looks like there will soon be fewer places for them to run to. And so it seems that we are subjecting our nation's physicians to fifty "experiments in "democracy"in this article, which discusses the fact that individual states are, at least prima facie experimenting with different solutions to the government-created health care crisis. Before we get too excited about the program in South Carolina being a "step in the right direction" (which might be arguable), note that it is not a repeal of its state insurance program, but an attempt to reform it. The basic premise of socialism remains unchallenged. In the meantime, our republic marches towards socialism piecemeal. To paraphrase what I recall as an old Soviet joke, South Carolina is standing at the edge of a precipice, and Illinois is about to take a great leap forward.
  16. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, The universe is the set of all entities. To say that "something" is outside the universe means that there is "something" - an entity - that is outside the set of all entities. This a contradiction, of course, since that "something" must be part of the universe, and therefore cannot be outside it. Rather, the universe is an expanding balloon of relativity (with a radius of ~13 billion light years).
  17. Originally posted by Felipe from d'Anconia Online, In The Fountainhead, we learn a lot about the main character Howard Roark through his interactions with other people. Ayn Rand is an evokative writer of great power. So much so that the wildest of positions can be conjured with the help of taking her writing out of context. I've come to realize this more so in rereading FH. Here are two pertinent examples: 1. Howard Roark's first commission as an independent architect is a house for a man named Austin Heller. From FH: Taken literally, this could be interepreted as an advocacy of indifference, of a "go it alone I don't need anyone" type of existence. What would be the consequences of such a view, morally? Well, for one, it would be wrong to be lonely. It would be a sign of "second-handedness." This, of course, is insane. Let me add one contextual detail that will make it evident that this is a false interpretation. Earlier in the book, Roark interacts with Peter Keating, a fellow he lived with and went to school with. Additionally, Roark also interacts with a construction worker, Mike, who admirers Roark for his exceptional skill at working at job sites (he comments something to the extent that most architects are desk jokeys). At different points in the story, both Keating and Mike end up inviting Roark to a drink--they extend him an invitation to friendship. Roark turns down Keating but drinks with Mike. While having the drink, they learn that they both admire the work of an old architect, whom Roark had worked for. This connection, Ayn Rand says, "sealed the friendship." So what difference does this make? Obviously this "line" Rand speaks of with regard to Roark doesn't encompass 99% of him, or 80%--it doesn't seal off Roark to the point that his indifference is complete. It is a fundamental indifference, one that can best be described as the absence of some need to replace one's own self-esteem with that of others. Roark's indifference is a consequence of his honesty, a consequence of his natural method of trading: value for value. He doesn't deal in favors or need or pity. How one interprets this passage, through reading the book, can be indicative of their own approach to friendship. That is, if this passage doesn't resonate with one, if this passage strikes one as cruel or harsh or antisocial, then perhaps one doesn't possess this fundamental indifference. Either way, my point here is that Roark's fundamental indifference, as mentioned in this passage alone, can be twisted to mean that desiring friendship is wrong. This would be done with the premise that all friendships are a form of dependence, that there is no such thing as honest friendship. 2. In the same exchange between Roark and Heller as in 1 above, Roark's philosophy of architectural design becomes apparent. Here Heller is discussing the design of his house with Roark. From FH: Taken out of context, this could mean that Roark, in designing his structures, gives no consideration to what his customers whish the building to do for them. That is, Roark builds whatever he wants, without any input from his customers. What would this lead to in morality? Well, this would make it "wrong" to design a pickup truck with suicide doors, so that the owner can have better access to his extended cab section (as I do in my truck). This would make all sorts of things wrong. But was this really what Ayn Rand was advocating? Earlier in this exchange, Roark explicitly describes his design philosophy: So clearly there is input from a customer, but it's not "I want columns or this or this," it's "I want a house that serves this and that purpose." That is, Roark only takes in the basic, fundamental purpose for the building from the customer, the rest is determined by the things he spoke of above guided by the principle "form follows function." Interesting how context is so important.
  18. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, Charlotte blogger Ogre has a chart:So, to help anyone who reads my posts or comments, here's my perception of the left-right chart of politics. The standard left/right scale is illustrated with the far left side being the far-lefties, and the far-right side being the, well, far-right. The donut in the middle is the middle position between the left and right. Hmmm. Is the philosophical, and thus ultimately, political structure a line? Or is it a triangle? I say triangle. Ogre's line reflects only Plato's influences on the right and Democritus' influences on the left. The third angle is...Aristotle. Here are some concretes among the three groups: People of Reason: represent objective reality, primacy of existence, reason, logic, objectivity, Aristotle, Ayn Rand, The City of Man, Ancient Greece, the Renaissance, The Age of Enlightment, science, The United States of America, rational self-interest, capitalism, individual rights, Atlas Shrugged and... People of Faith: represent two worlds, idealism, mysticism, primacy of consciousness (supernatural version) faith, intrinsicism, revelation, Plato, Augustine, Kant, Hegel, The City of God, The Dark Ages, the Holy Roman Empire, sacrifice, theocracy, serfdom, The Bible, The Koran and... People of Force: represent force, materialism, subjectivism, skepticism, primacy of consciousness (social version), Democritus, Marx, a gun or a club focused upon your head, Communist China/former Soviet Union, duty, Nazi Germany, totalitarianism, taxes, environmentalism, The Communist Manifesto Where are you? Most Americans are pretty much in the middle of the triangle. Lots of history here.
  19. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, In the growing money-for-medicine market, AFCM occasionally hears from those whose interest in realizing health care capitalism was fueled by the desire to pursue medicine as a profession. Chicago-area American Chartered Bank President Dan Miller is a case in point. and... Having the individual engaged in making medical decisions makes all the sense in the world. The reason people don't even know what medical costs are is that they have no incentive to pay for medicine. I know I hadn't given much thought to health insurance costs. You just hand over your [insurance] card, pay your co-pay and somebody takes care of the rest. That's just flawed. Much more here from Americans for Free Choice in Medicine.
  20. Originally from The Charlotte Capitalist ™, Welcome to Wal-Mart world, where we all pay says Mary Newsom at The Charlotte Observer. Mary complains: Yet even more troubling is this: A Wal-Mart memo, made public last month, said 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart employees have no health insurance or are on Medicaid. Who's paying to keep Wal-Mart's prices low? We are -- we who pay state taxes and county property taxes. Even our hospital bills expand to cover hospitals' costs of caring for the uninsured. This statement gives the impression that Wal-Mart is the cause of high Medicaid expenses. But then she follows: To be sure, most Medicaid recipients aren't Wal-Mart employees. Only about 5 percent of Wal-Mart workers are on Medicaid. Where is the context for these statements? Is 5% high or low compared to other large companies? Mary does not share. She then complains: And Medicaid costs are gobbling N.C. county budgets faster than teenagers gobble pizza. Mecklenburg will spend about $25 million on Medicaid this year, Gaston County about $14 million. In 48 N.C. counties, Medicaid spending costs more than school construction. The state budget spends $8 billion for Medicaid. Again, no context. Is she blaming Wal-Mart for this or just throwing this in to give you the impression that Wal-Mart is the problem? There is no way to tell from her column. She then adds: To be fair, most retail pay and benefits are paltry. The mom-and-pop stores that tank when Wal-Mart moves in likely didn't pay health insurance, either. So what is the point then with respect to Wal-Mart? She has none. Also: But Wal-Mart, where full-time workers average $9.68 an hour, is one of the top employers in most N.C. counties. In 47 counties, it's in the top 10, and in 16 -- including Cabarrus, Iredell and Rutherford -- it's in the top five. It ranks 13th in Mecklenburg County. $9.68 is approximately 50% higher than the minimum wage. Unions did not negotiate this rate. Wal-Mart pays this rate to attract good people. I doubt the companies who failed to compete with Wal-Mart were paying workers this good of a rate. But the real problem with the column is that she criticizes Wal-Mart for trying to manage its expenses by hiring healthy people. Of course, they are. In fact, all companies should do this. It is not Wal-Mart that is driving up medical expenses. It is Medicare. Under Medicare, you don't have to worry about most of your medical expenses. Other taxpayers (present and future) will take care of you. So don't worry if you smoke, drink, get obese, or generally don't take care of yourself. Someone else will be responsible. Mary warns us about a "Wal-Mart world". I am hoping for a Wal-Mart world. In a Wal-Mart world, "we" all do *not* pay. It is the Medicare world where "we" all pay. In the Wal-Mart world that Mary fears, you and I pay for only what we want at a highly competent retailer. Wal-Mart can not force you and me to work for it. We only work for Wal-Mart if it wants us to and we agree to the terms. We have the right to disagree by not working there. In the end, it is the right to disagree which Mary is against. And it is ideas such as hers, when put into action, which really causes all of us to pay.
  21. Originally by David Holcberg, via ARI Media, Dear Editor: The Kansas Board of Education has redefined science to make room for the supernatural. But changing definitions will not alter the fact that science and religion are incompatible. Science seeks natural explanations for natural phenomena. It does so by logical inferences from observable facts and experimentation. Science relies on reason and evidence. Religion, in contrast, relies on supernatural "explanations" for natural phenomena. It demands belief unsupported by evidence and/or contrary to facts. Religion relies on faith. Just as evolution and creationism are mutually exclusive and naturally pitted against each other, so are science and religion. Changing definitions will not change reality. [ARI's e-mail says: "If you plan to use this letter, please let us know. Thank you."]
  22. (Originally posted by The General on The Benjo Blog. ) Yet another demonstration of the mulitude of applications for GoogleMaps: Map Sex Offenders. Sex offenders are properly regarded as one of the most detestable forms of life on the planet. In a free, moral society such predators would be ostracized into oblivion. On that note, however, it is worth noting that the category of "sex offender" is often stretched to include individuals who clearly don't belong to it. This letter (via Crime and Federalism) details the injustice that can befall an innocent mistake.
  23. In a rather vaguely written article, the BBC takes an underhanded swipe at America, and whitewashes Iran. Apparently some twenty Americans are playing basketball in Iran. Most black, I presume. The writer notes that these American stars are cheered regardless of their ties to The Great Satan. From the pictures in the article, I presume most Iranian basketball fans are young men. Not mentioned in the article is what the West has known for a long time: Iranian youths are pro-West and actually quite antagonistic toward their theocratic government. Mentioning this, however, would undercut the main point of the article, which is: Iran ain't so bad after all, "[it] has always said it has a problem with the American government, not with its people, and this is an example of that." But can one have a problem with the government of a free nation and not with the people... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000474.html
  24. (Originally by Felipe on d'Anconia Online.) Recently in Austria, a British historian was arrested for "denying the Holocaust." Hm, I wonder if I'd be arrested for denying slavery here in America (not that I would want to)? In Hungaria, a senior member of the country's Communist Workers' Party received a one-year suspended sentence for wearing a red star, the communist symbol. Hm, do those good ol' boys down in our Dirty South get arrested for proudly flaunting Confederate flags in the backs of their trucks? We can keep riding the aftershocks of this country's founding for only so much longer -- at some point this savage ignorance of moral principles will hit us as bad as it's hitting Europe.
  25. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the second of today's Featured Articles by H. Acstonus. This brilliant article discusses Objectivity in today's world: Objectivity has been under attack for generations. Today, it’s under a particularly destructive assault. Postmodernists reject the very notion of objective truth, and many hold that there are separate realities-as well as truths-for separate groups based of such things a economic status, gender, race, and culture. This approach is self-contradictory, and if taken literally would amount to the complete destruction of all knowledge. It has come to the forefront because of epistemological confusion: the concept of objectivity has not been properly understood, and is consequently in danger of being abandoned. This confusion is the fault of the philosophers. Rather than showing the other disciplines proper methods needed to acquire knowledge, philosophers for the last two hundred years have been proclaiming... http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/000476.html
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